Know Your Rights Part 1: Navigating Employment in New York as an Immigrant

Do Employment Discrimination Laws Apply to Immigrants?

According to federal labor and employment laws, all employees in the United States are protected from discrimination, no matter their immigration status. In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In other words, your employer cannot treat you differently because you were born in another country or because you have a different culture or language.

Furthermore, the anti-discrimination provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act prohibits the following:

  • Recruiting/referring for a fee, hiring, or firing based on your citizenship status
  • Recruiting/referring for a fee, hiring, or firing based on your national origin
  • Unfair documentary practices while verifying your employment eligibility
  • Requiring you to provide additional employment authorization documents because of your citizenship status or national origin
  • General “citizen-only” policies
  • Retaliation or intimidation

Due to today’s increasing levels of prejudice, however, you may face greater levels of discrimination or harassment as an immigrant. While you do have the same rights as any other employee, you may find yourself fighting for those rights in a court of law. Understanding your rights as an employee in New York will help you determine if they have been violated, and, if so, how you can take action.

Labor Laws for All Employees in New York

In New York, immigrants of any status are entitled to the same rights as American-born employees. These rights are listed in the New York Workers’ Bill of Rights.

According to the Workers’ Bill of Rights, you have the right to:

  • Paid safe and sick leave. Those who work more than 80 hours per year can earn up to 40 hours of safe and sick leave. If your employer has at least 5 employees, this time off is paid. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for requesting this time off.
  • Organize. Your employer cannot take adverse action against you for unionizing or organizing with your colleagues and discussing working conditions.
  • Minimum wage. Currently, employers of fast food employees and 11 or more workers in other professions must pay $15 per hour. If the employer has 10 or fewer workers in a profession other than fast food, the minimum wage is $13.50. In 2020, all employees must be paid $15 per hour.
  • Paid overtime. Your employer must pay you 1.5 times your normal wage for any hours worked over 40 in one week.
  • Paid work as an independent contractor. If you are an independent contractor, you have the right to a written contract if your work is worth more than $800. You also have the right to timely payment for all completed work, and you can sue for damages in certain circumstances.
  • A discrimination-free workplace. Currently, New York protects 20 different classes against discrimination, including alienage or citizenship status, color, national origin, and race.
  • A safe and healthy workplace. Your employer must provide a work environment free of health and safety hazards, as well as training for all employees regarding the job’s potential hazards.

The Continued Fight for Immigrant Rights in New York Workplaces

New York values and relies on immigrants—even those who are undocumented. According to a 2017 report by the American Immigration Council, immigrants account for one-fifth of the state’s population and a quarter of the state’s workforce. Over a million NY residents live with at least one undocumented family member. In recent years, nearly 6% of the state’s workforce was comprised of undocumented immigrants.

Despite the state’s reliance on immigrant workers, some employers threaten employees with contacting immigration authorities. They use this intimidation tactic to keep their immigrant employees from speaking out against discrimination. Today, immigrants are far more likely than their American-born counterparts to experience wage theft, sexual harassment, and workplace safety violations.

In response to this discrepancy between federal labor laws and reality, NY legislators recently passed a bill to solidify protections for immigrants. The bill reinforces the federal law forbidding employers from retaliating against immigrant employees.

“There is no place for any form of harassment, intimidation, and abuse in the workplace,” said NY Attorney General Letitia James. “It is incumbent on us to help vulnerable workers be able to stand up for their rights without fear of punishment.” Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, another supporter of the bill, pointed out the role of immigrants in New York’s history and “pathway to success,” as well as “the promise of the Statue of Liberty at our shores.”

What Are Your Immigration Goals? Our Firm Is Here to Help.

Learning about your rights is the first step toward empowerment. The second step is obtaining dedicated and knowledgeable legal support. The Law Office of Robert J. Maher, PC represents clients in a wide variety of immigration matters. Whether you are taking steps toward citizenship or facing deportation, our attorney is ready to advocate for your rights and support you on your path toward a better future.

Call our firm at (646) 681-1977 or schedule your consultation today.
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